France's Macron vows support for northern Syrians, Kurdish militia

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s president on Thursday assured the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of Paris’ support to stabilise northeastern Syria against Islamic State, and Kurdish officials said he had committed to sending troops to the region.

Emmanuel Macron has been criticized at home over his response to a Turkish military operation against YPG militants. The group makes up a large portion of the SDF, which have been at the forefront of the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy to defeat the hard-line militants.

Macron met earlier for the first time with a delegation that included the YPG, which Turkey is trying to sweep away from its border, its political arm the PYD, and Christian and Arab officials.

“The president ... paid tribute to the sacrifices and the determining role of the SDF in the fight against Daesh,” Macron’s office said in a statement.

“He assured the SDF of France’s support for the stabilization of the security zone in the north-east of Syria, within the framework of an inclusive and balanced governance, to prevent any resurgence of Islamic State.”

Former president Francois Hollande, who originally approved French support for the Kurds, bemoaned on March 23 Macron’s Syria policy, in particular his attitude to the YPG, accusing him of abandoning them.

Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state within Turkey.

France, like the United States, has extended arms and training to the YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State, and has dozens of special forces based in the region, which has infuriated Turkey.

Turkey stormed the northern Syrian town of Afrin last week, and has repeatedly threatened to push its operations further east to Manbij where U.S. troops are stationed.

Speaking to Reuters after the meeting with Macron, Khaled Eissa, a PYD member who represents the northern Syria region in Paris, said Macron had promised to send more troops to the area, provide humanitarian assistance and push a diplomatic solution.

“There will be reinforcements to help secure from attacks by Islamic State and stop a foreign aggression,” he said, referring to Turkey. “It’s message that this irresponsible action from the Islamists in Ankara stops.”

The French presidency declined to comment on whether Paris was sending troops. However, it said in the statement that Macron was offering to mediate between the two sides given that the SDF had distanced itself from the PKK.

“Acknowledging the commitment of the SDF to have no operational link with this terrorist group ... he (Macron) hopes that a dialogue could be established between the FDS and Turkey with France and the international community’s help,” it said.

Macron spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday about the situation in northern Syria.

Reporting by John Irish and Marine Pennetier; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Toni Reinhold